Former publisher looks back on the community he once served

Published 9:37 pm Wednesday, September 25, 2019

LAKE MILLS — Harris Honsey of Lake Mills was at a loss for words when asked about the people of the community he calls home — which may seem ironic for a man who worked at the Lake Mills Graphic for almost half a century.

He started working at the newspaper as a printer’s devil while he was in high school. At the time, the printer’s devil was a common term for an apprentice.

He continued at the business full-time after graduating from Lake Mills Community School, with the exception of two years he spent serving his country as a member of the military police in Washington, D.C.

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He managed the newspaper for five years before purchasing the newspaper in June 1969.

“The centennial edition was my last effort for my boss,” Honsey said.

His success on the project earned him first place honors from the Iowa Newspaper Association special section category.

Honsey was also honored in the community service category for his contributions to the Homecoming ’86 program that took first place in the statewide betterment competition and received the Master Editor Publisher Award in 1989.

“Things were humming in those days,” he said. “We bragged that we had 1,600 jobs in a town of 2,100 people.”

The community was hit with a setback when one of its largest employers, Cummins Filtration, announced the layoff of 400 employees in 2009. The plant closed shortly after, but the community of Lake Mills made it through, and for good reason.

“We’ve been blessed with good people,” Honsey said, noting he feared naming them all out of fear he would leave someone out.

Honsey said Lake Mills is the type of community that if one of the farmers in town has a problem and cannot manage his farm, other farmers would gather a dozen combines, tractors and trailers and harvest for them or their widow.

“It’s a very caring, sharing group of people here,” he said.

Honsey also noted the generous spirit of the people of Lake Mills, which has resulted in many projects being done through community donations.

One such project was the Norwegian American Immigrant Family Monument.

According to articles in the Lake Mills Graphic archives, a project committee started to raise donations for the statue in March 1994. Those who donated over $500 to the project received a print of a painting the group had commissioned to be made once the statue was erected. Those who gave $1,000 or more would have their name placed on a plaque near the monument. Various fundraisers took place as well as contributions from different organizations.

The monument honors the Norwegian ancestry many early Lake Mills residents shared. In the town’s infancy, most of the population was from Norway while there were smaller pockets of English or Irish ancestry.

The Norwegian American Immigrant Family Monument, dedicated in 1995, is located in a 6-acre park at the edge of Lake Mills, which was donated by Ronald and Darlene Groe. The life-size bronze sculpture by Clifford Carlson depicts a 1860s era Norwegian family with their travel trunk. The son points off into the distance of the new land they have come upon while glancing back at his parents. His younger sister looks ahead with astonishment.

The Iowa Living Roadway  Trust Fund provided native flowering plants and grass seeds, beginning the restoration of the prairie site the statue rests upon.

According to a marker at the site, the grasses represent the view many early settlers would have seen when they arrived in the area.

The monument is dedicated to the thousands of immigrants who made the dangerous journey across the sea to begin a new life,  in hopes of finding the promise of America.

Many descendents of those early settlers still live in the area. Those of Norwegian ancestry who donated or who had someone donate in memory of them have an asterisk by their names.